A long time ago, in a village not far away, the horseman ruled the land. Barns dotted the hillside and Paints and Appaloosas grazed in pastures above the sparkling waters of San Francisco Bay.
These were the Oakland hills, circa 1938, when rodeo cowboys ran the ranches and the Mills College girls rode their steeds through the canyon and up the hill, past what's now Merritt College, to Joaquin Miller Park.
"After the vets came home from World War II, there was a tremendous upsurge in equestrian use in this area," said Amelia Marshall, a historian for the Metropolitan Horsemen's Association. As many as 3,000 hills folks rode horses, and because of this, a grand plan was born for an equestrian center in the park. There would be paddocks and stables, an arena and racetrack. A horse trail would be built down the center of Skyline Boulevard, with equestrian access to all parts of the Oakland hills. But it was a plan that was "cut off at the pass," so to speak.
Sequoia Arena was built, and later, a clubhouse was moved to the site across the street. But a push for two highways was slowly changing the character of the hills. With Interstate 580 and Highway 13, the parks began to be used in a more urbanized fashion, and at some point, the funding for the grand equestrian center dried up.
Another mode of transportation was coming into play, too.
"In the 1970s, the mountain bike was invented, and many equestrians preferred to move to more rural areas so they wouldn't have to share the trails with mountain bikers," Marshall said. Horses were skittish enough on the trails without this kind of encounter. Off-leash dogs were becoming a problem, as well, in some cases causing horses to throw their riders.
Decades later, and despite all this, the Metropolitan Horsemen's Association continues to meet at their historic clubhouse on Skyline Boulevard, once Oakland Firehouse No. 28. The members also hold several horse shows a year at Sequoia Arena, which now has a new announcer's booth, thanks to volunteers who rebuilt the structure after it was heavily damaged in a storm in 2012.
The equestrian story. It's a part of hills history that has framed how we live today -- in a region with wide open spaces and room to roam -- for horses and for humans.
For more information on horse shows and other equestrian events in the Oakland hills, go to Metropolitan Horsemen's Association Web site at http://www.mhaoakland.org/.
For information on equestrian activities in the East Bay Regional Parks, go to http://www.ebparks.org/activities/equestrian.
Riding lessons are offered at Skyline Ranch at www.skyline-ranch.com/"Žand at Redwood Ranch Stables at http://redwoodranchstables.com/.
For information on the reopening of the Oakland-owned City Stables see http://www2.oaklandnet.com.